Conflicts & War

Surviving in Mariupol: Drinking rainwater, cooking pigeons

Odesa, Ukraine, March 20 (EFE).- Civilians sheltering in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol have been cut off from humanitarian aid forcing many to collect rainwater and cook pigeons to survive.

“The neighbors got together and enabled the basements as shelters. Now they collect rainwater and cook pigeons and other animals on bonfires to survive,” Galyna Balabanova narrated to EFE in a telephone interview.

Mariupol, a city in southeastern Ukraine with a population of just under 500,000, has been one of the hardest hit during Russia’s invasion which has left 70 percent of homes damaged by relentless shelling, according to municipal authorities.

Balabanova managed to leave Mariupol on Mar. 16, the same day that Ukrainian authorities accused Russian forces of bombing the city’s Theater where hundreds of people were sheltering.

“At the time of the bombing, I was leaving the city and I only heard it. On the outskirts of the city, from the (humanitarian) corridor you could clearly see how the city was being attacked from all angles and by all means possible,” the young woman added.

“Miraculously we were not caught by the shots.”

Balabanova took a risk and decided to take a different route, avoiding the humanitarian corridor.

“Along the way, there were more than 20 checkpoints of men in Russian uniform who inspected the car every 500 meters. We wanted to cry helplessly because we were leaving family and friends behind in the city,” she said.

Ukrainian authorities have been opening corridors to evacuate civilians from some of the country’s most important cities, but the Mariupol corridor is practically blocked.

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said on Saturday that not all humanitarian corridors were working. She added that at least 4,100 people have managed to leave Mariupol, including almost 1,200 children.

Balabanova is one of the thousands of people who have escaped Mariupol, where food and water reserves are running out and humanitarian aid is blocked, according to the UN World Food Program.

“Mariupol has been subjected to artillery, air and tank attacks every hour. All the streets, without exception, and most houses are destroyed (…) The factories, where more than 15 shelters were located, were attacked every day,” according to Balabanova.

Ukrainian authorities accused Moscow of bombing a children’s hospital on Mar. 9 killing three, two of them children.

Ukraine says 1,200 people have died since the bloody siege began.

Russia has denied these claims.

“The worst moments were when there were six planes at a time circling the city and attacking continuously. It scares me to think about what the situation will be like there today,” she added.

Balabanova said that people came to her and her family from the most distant neighborhoods begging for help.

“They wondered where the authorities, the mayor and even the funeral home had gone. They wondered why they now had to bury their loved ones in their backyards,” she further said.

But for Balabanova the hardest moments are now, as she witnesses the situation helplessly.

“Now that I’m out of danger and I can’t help those who write to me asking me to get their loved ones out of besieged Mariupol or to at least to take bread and water to them.”

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